Prior to the beginning of the Overwatch League, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that the Seoul Dynasty could ever be ill-favored in a matchup, much less an underdog.
However, the team has recently struggled to maintain its strength, dropping two straight matches to the other primarily Korean teams in the league, London Spitfire and NYXL.
In the team’s 0-4 loss to the Spitfire earlier this week, the Dynasty decided not to run their star support, Je-Hong “Ryujehong” Ryu on even a single map, leaving spectators and experts confused. Two straight losses, accompanied by Seoul’s captain missing an entire series, created a feeling of wariness around the team. Throw in the fact that last night’s opponents were the red-hot Houston Outlaws, on a five-gaming winning streak, and it was looking dicey for Seoul.
In the opening map, Eichenwalde, it appeared that the Dynasty’s prestige might actually be in danger, as the team barely capped the first point in overtime. The team struggled with backline pressure from Houston DPS Jacob “Jake” Lyon—and if not for Seoul DPS Byung-Sun “Fleta” Kim’s heroics on McCree, the team might not have even made it to the second point. After eventually dropping the map to the Outlaws, it truly felt like the ceiling was going to crumble for the Korean elites.
Despite the scare, Seoul’s class held through as they convincingly won Horizon Lunar Colony and Ilios. Houston managed to drag the match to five games with a win on Junkertown, but Seoul struck back with a decisive win on tiebreaker map Lijiang Tower. While the Dynasty are beatable, the win was a return to normalcy after struggles that were previously alien to the team.
“Recently was the first time our team lost two games in a row,” Seoul support Jin-Mo “Tobi” Yang said. “It was really hard, and it’s been tough for us as a team. We have been working on a lot of things, and it worked out today so I’m really glad.”
For Tobi, it did not help that he was thrust into leading the Dynasty in their loss to London. Seoul may have swapped players in and out in the past, but there were no mind games on Friday. Everything was back in order against Houston, and Tobi was more comfortable as the Seoul Dynasty battled to hold their spot near the top of the standings.
“I have only played as the main shotcaller once, and it was just my second time leading as the main shotcaller,” Tobi said. “Jehong coming back today made me a lot more comfortable. There is too much pressure on me to shotcall when Jehong isn’t around.”
Pressure is the name of the game for Seoul, as many pegged the team to be a frontrunner to win the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. Great expectations are bestowed upon great teams, but this feeling tends to sour when the least bit goes awry.
“The last few matches were the toughest time as a pro gamer for me,” Tobi said. “I heard so many things, the worst things you could ever hear as a pro gamer. I feel very sorry for the fans who had high expectations for our team, since we haven't been playing to our full potential. As a team, all 11 players, we are working to resolve our issues.”
Eleven players may be working on the in-game issues, but Tobi says their fans have been their “twelfth player,” making a difference—for Seoul and for Tobi personally—as they work through this difficult time.
“There are fans encouraging us and supporting me,” he said. “That made a huge difference as a pro gamer and I even cried for that support.”
Notching a win against the upstart Houston Outlaws had to help Tobi's mindset as well, especially given how highly his team rates Jake in particular.
“My opinion of him hasn’t changed,” Tobi declared. “He is still really good.”
Houston gave Seoul a solid run for their money, and it’s no question that the team remains a threat. Tobi gives credit to the Outlaws’ success to their coach, Taeyeon “TaiRong” Kim, noting his knack for “building strategies and implementing that with his players.” On top of that, the roster is talented, and each player is capable of making a “super-play,” in Tobi’s words.
After staving off a hungry Outlaws roster, the Dynasty are now in sole possession of third place, narrowly holding onto the final spot for the Stage 1 Finals, which will take place next Saturday among the top three teams in the standings. There is still a lot of work to be done, as the Los Angeles Valiant and the Outlaws remain hot on their heels, but for now, Seoul is back in control and on the path to redemption.
And while it may not be likely that Ryujehong is absent from the starting lineup from now on, Tobi believes that roster shakeups are a part of the league and should be embraced.
“The [season] is very long, and it is really good to give opportunities to everyone on our team,” he said. “In the long term, I also believe that is better for our team.”